2020: Opposition’s Political Myopia to hand EPRDF victory on a platter?
Ethiopia’s much hyped 2020 General Elections are two years away and people are already buzzing with excitement and glee. Ethiopia may be on the brink of its sixth multiparty elections, but the country is yet to conduct a nationwide electoral campaign agreed by both international observers and voters to have been free and fair. The democratic process has for years been scoffed at by Ethiopians who saw it as little more than a tool to legitimize the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF)’s maintaining of a stronghold on political power. But current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has gone to great lengths to assure his countrymen that things will be different this time round. He has already enacted groundbreaking reforms that has paved the way for banned opposition elements to register as political entities and engage their constituencies. People are daring to dream that 2020 will be the year they shape their destiny at the ballot box for the first time.
And yet, the men and women whose names will be on the ballots don’t appear to be doing much out of the norm, despite the magnitude of the occasion. For the opposition, which needs to grit its teeth to ensure it can hold its own in a nationwide battle of wits, there appears to be no serious upswing in activity or intention. As it stands there appears to be no indication the various opposition elements will break away from their shadows and sincerely chase after the electoral scalp that could see a handover of power from the EPRDF to someone else.
For much of the past three decades, in an effort to circumvent possible challenges to their rule, EPRDF government officials have regularly ordered opposition party members and sympathetic activists to be harassed, detained, tortured and exiled. To further counter their influence, the government would deploy young, zealous party adherents all over the country and everywhere humans are seen to be interacting. University and college campuses for instance, have long been infiltrated by regime narrative parroting cadres and students are coaxed if not pressured to register as party members and supporters. In the aftermath of the 2005 election which saw police gun down nearly 200 protesters in Addis Ababa, openly expressing defiance to the EPRDF on campus or in the workplace became tantamount to shutting the door on employment, promotion and in some cases, graduation. People give in to implicit threats and intimidation, keeping dissenting thoughts to themselves to avoid triggering the radars of party members tasked with reporting on non conformists. Ethiopia’s prisons have always been overcrowded with political prisoners accused of anything from opposition party membership to expressing sympathy for them on social media.
Images of the OromoProtests, the movement that resulted in the political reforms Ethiopia has seen in 2018 (Image: Tiksa Negeri)
Armed secessionist groups based in neighbouring Eritrea were encouraged to give up the armed struggle for the peaceful political one at home. Capitalizing on the offer of an amnesty as well as a peace deal struck between Ethiopia and Eritrea, several groups relinquished their weapons and returned home. The once criminalized Oromo Liberation Front, Ogaden National Liberation Front, Tigrayan People’s Democratic Movement and Ginbot 7 groups were decriminalized and allowed to legally register as political entities. For years, these groups were designated terrorist entities and their members jailed, tortured and murdered by the Ethiopia security apparatus. 2018 was marked by formerly exiled militants, activists, journalists and politicians making long awaited triumphant returns to the country that had declared them persona non grata. The dawn of a new era for many, and Africa’s feel good story of the year.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went a step further and traveled to the United States this year where he met with the large Ethiopian expat community over there. He sat down with representatives of various political entities, entertaining their inquiries and urging them to return home and take part in a political process he promised would flourish. The Ethiopian government has even gone as far as financing the returns, paying airfares and living expenses of a yet to be determined number of opposition party affiliated politicians and activists.